Factually: Platforms scramble to contend with QAnon. Are they too late?

For people who thought QAnon existed mostly on the fringe of society, it might have come as a surprise this week when one of the conspiracy theory’s adherents essentially locked down a seat in Congress.

Marjorie Taylor Greene, now the GOP’s nominee for the 14th congressional district in Georgia, is all but assured to win the seat in November, given that the district is solidly Republican.

The conspiracy theory posits that there is a deep-state element within the federal government that is working against President Donald Trump, that this element is running pedophilia and sex trafficking rings, among other things, and that Trump is fighting those forces of evil.

QAnon started in 2017 on the website 4chan but has since found a home on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, where its adherents use hashtags and cryptic messages to communicate and bond with one another.

Now those platforms are — belatedly — trying to get their arms around this hydra-headed creature.

A few weeks ago, Twitter removed thousands of accounts associated with QAnon, saying their posts could “lead to offline harm.

Facebook this week removed a group called Official Q/Qanon, which had nearly 200,000 members. The platform told Reuters it took the action “after multiple individual postings were removed for crossing the lines on bullying and harassment, hate speech, and false information that could lead to harm.”

A YouTube representative told Insider’s Rachel E. Greenspan recently that it has taken down “tens of thousands of videos and hundreds of channels” associated with QAnon since June 2019. TikTok last month also blocked some hashtags, according to the BBC.

We can expect more of these actions. But even so, it’s still easy enough to find QAnon content. NBC News reported this week that a Facebook internal investigation found millions of QAnon followers on the platform. And when their hashtags are blocked, they find new ones, like #savethechildren, as BBC reporter Shayan Sardarizadeh tweeted on Monday.

In fact, the followers of conspiracy theories use takedowns on social media platforms as a tool to win new recruits and get even more attention by claiming “censorship,” as we’ve noted before, playing on the notion that some nefarious powers are trying to hide “the truth.”

While QAnon followers’ beliefs may be disconnected from reality, they have deeply established themselves on some of the most popular social media platforms in the world. And, now, it appears, at least one of them will be establishing herself in the U.S. Capitol as well.

– Susan Benkelman, API

. . . technology

  • Facebook removed the “news exemption” for U.S. news publishers with “direct, meaningful ties” to political organizations, Axios reported.

  • Brazilian fact-checking organization Aos Fatos unveiled the public-facing dashboard of its real-time misinformation monitor Radar.

    • Radar scans various publications and uses an algorithm to detect language patterns commonly used in misinformation. It then rates the quality of that information based on Aos Fatos’ methodology.

. . . politics

  • In a press release Tuesday, Facebook clarified that op-eds and editorials are eligible for fact-checking by members of its Third-Party Fact-Checking Program.
    • The company also announced two new fact-checking labels: ‘altered’ and ‘missing context.’
    • Full disclosure: Facebook requires that its fact-checking partners are verified signatories to the International Fact-Checking Network’s Code of Principles
  • A hoax about Black Lives Matter protesters in Portland, Oregon, burning a stack of Bibles was created and disseminated by a “Kremlin-backed video news agency,” The New York Times reported
    • The viral video shared by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Donald Trump Jr. appears to be part of a Russian disinformation campaign ahead of the 2020 election, the Times said.

. . . science and health

  • Facebook this week said it removed 7 million posts that contained misinformation about COVID-19 between April and June from both the social networking site and from Instagram. The removed content included fake cures and other falsehoods about the virus, the company said.

    • The data about the takedowns were released in Facebook’s Community Standards Enforcement Report, Reuters reported, which it started in 2018 after criticism of its lack of aggressive moderation of such content.

  • Public health officials in North Carolina had to contend with COVID-19 misinformation in a briefing with state lawmakers Tuesday, reported WRAL.

    • The state’s Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen assured lawmakers that hospitals are not getting bonuses for reporting increased numbers of cases.
    • Officials also corrected misinformation that most hospitalized COVID-19 patients were primarily being treated for other diseases.

This week Reuters’ fact-checking team confronted a claim from Serbia that massive protests broke out in the capital of Belgrade after the government supposedly mandated COVID-19 vaccinations for children returning to school. The claim alleged millions protested the move, which according to the claim was instituted by the government on Aug 3.

Neither the protest nor the supposed government mandate ever took place. Reuters’ fact-checking team used a reverse image search to find that the photo supporting the claim was taken from protests in early July against the government’s response to the pandemic.

Reuters did not find any announced COVID-19 vaccination requirement. However, a Serbian official did recommend children get the flu vaccine to protect against the seasonal outbreak.

What we liked: This fact-check confronts the real threat of vaccine misinformation that will inevitably become more rampant as the world gets closer to a widely distributed and tested vaccine. It also shows us how easy it is for genuine public discontent about the Serbian government’s handling of the pandemic can be tweaked to promote a false narrative about vaccines.

– Harrison Mantas, IFCN

  1. The network analysis firm Graphika found that a number of fake Chinese accounts have posted videos critical of President Trump, how he’s handled the coronavirus and other issues involving China, The Washington Post reported Wednesday.
  2. FactCheck.org offered a one-stop-shop of all their fact-checks of California Sen. Kamala Harris during the 2020 campaign.
  3. The Associated Press reported women’s groups are gearing up to fight both dis- and misinformation about Harris, the presumptive Democratic vice presidential nominee.
  4. Tommy Shane wrote for FirstDraft about ways social media companies can fight misinformation by adding public-facing analytics similar to Google Trends to their platforms.
  5. WBUR’s Robin Young on Here & Now spoke to MediaWise Teen Fact-Checking Network editor Alexa Volland and teen fact-checker Thea Barrett about their work helping young people fight misinformation.

That’s it for this week! Feel free to send feedback and suggestions to factually@poynter.org. And if this newsletter was forwarded to you, or if you’re reading it on the web, you can subscribe here. Thanks for reading.

Susan and Harrison

  1. Get your facts faster. Sign up for our weekly newsletter delivered to your inbox every Thursday morning.